Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Opportunity: Nature Journaling Week 6

Last week’s journaling was about being random. This week, I’m calling it opportunity. Maybe I should lump it all into lack of vision or drive, but that’s too negative for my purposes.

My calendar note to do journaling over the weekend came and went. I was outside a lot, but I didn’t sit down with pencil and paper. Moving my body and communicating face-to-face with friends were further up my list of priorities, and if that’s your truth, I think you need to follow that.

As I waited for a friend at Rivers Crossing Park, I found myself watching a large black ant crawling up the trunk of a honey locust tree in the parking lot landscaping. This ant was much larger than the ones I saw last week. The ant crossed over and around the obstacles of the bark with determination, always as directly upward as possible.

I looked more closely at the bark: basically smooth brown, with many lighter horizontal dash marks- the trunk’s “breathing” pores, or lenticels. In addition, there were rougher patches and vertical splits indicating adverse conditions the tree had experienced in the past and was recovering from with some scar tissue. In addition, the entire trunk was covered with splotches of other organisms: lichens.

Lichens are interesting, non-vascular organisms that are found just about anywhere. They are actually “species” formed by the symbiotic relationship of 2 living things: green algae or blue-green cyanobacteria and fungi. Different fungi can support different algae, and sometimes multiple ones can be found within a single framework of fungal cells. I noticed 2 different colors of green on the tree trunk. We usually think of algae as living in bodies of water. With the help of fungi, they can photosynthesize on trees, rocks, on soil, or on the forest floor. Wherever fungi can find a hold, lichens can form.

What do the fungi get out of the relationship? They can absorb some of the food the algae build with the sun’s energy. The algae get that physical protection of the fungal cells surrounding them and can absorb some of the minerals and water the fungi have picked up from the substrates they live upon. Both absorb water from rain and mist.

These species find opportunities in living together. I found an opportunity to study and draw as I observed them. The ant might gain something from them, I don’t know. The tree could benefit from the lichen’s presence: lichens can fix nitrogen from the air and rain can leech some of that down into the soil for the tree to use.

No living thing is really alone. Each of us is dancing intimately with a host of other organisms and the elements. I was reminded of that during this journaling. And that is yet another opportunity for me as I move forward. How can I cultivate helpful relationships? What can I do to be better prepared for changing conditions? What can I offer in exchange with someone or something else?

Today’s the first day of Fall. Seasonal changes are great reminders to take stock of where we are at and where we want to go. I hope we can all take the opportunity to do that!

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